Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Money Pleas: Charities looking homeward for donations find patrons scarce

A cyclo driver pedals through his territory as part of the mobile pantry initiative in Phnom Penh, Picture taken August 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A cyclo driver pedals through his territory as part of the mobile pantry initiative in Phnom Penh, Picture taken August 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Leaders in the non-profit sector challenged the government and private donors to raise significantly more funding after a regional survey ranked Cambodia last in charitable giving.

The Kingdom’s social-service charities relied too heavily on foreign money, according to a 17-country study by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, The NGO Forum on Cambodia and the Center for Asian Philanthropy and Society.  Nonprofits received just 10% of their annual budgets from domestic sources, the survey’s lowest.

Experts suggested countries aim for donation levels around 2% of GDP. In Cambodia’s case, with the right strategy and broader government support, that represented a potential cash reservoir of some $500 million.

“Cambodia has a robust network of social-sector organizations,” said Dr. Tek Vannara, executive director of The NGO Forum, in a statement. “But the pandemic has challenged the capacity of the social sector to meet Cambodia’s social needs and highlighted the importance of cross-sector collaborations.”

The Kingdom is home to a few thousand humanitarian organizations serving a vast array of needs, such as feeding the hungry, building schools, providing free health care and supporting human-trafficking survivors.

The pandemic has driven down charitable giving across the globe, forcing local nonprofits to find new money sources. The report pointed to several reasons for the drop: insufficient foreign investment because of regional prosperity, donors rerouting their funding to other areas in the wake of the pandemic, and government restrictions on funding flows.

Among humanitarian organizations that deliver social services — often called social-delivery organizations, or SDOs — domestic funding plunged from 16% of budgets in 2020 to 10% in 2021.

Vietnam registered 16%, Thailand 42%, Bangladesh 30% and Malaysia 36%.

The report, titled the Doing Good Index 2022, assessed countries on the “health and well-being” of their social sectors. It offered a roadmap for Asian countries to unlock billions in charitable donations, according to its authors.

The report, published every two years, ranked Cambodia as “Doing Okay,” up from “Not Doing Enough” in 2020, the first year of inclusion.

“We have made good progress in the Doing Good Index 2022, but there is still room for further growth,” said Sin Putheary, executive director of the CCC. “There is a need to strengthen Cambodia’s ability to leverage domestic support for the sector.” 

Parents, local authorities and APLE staff in Siem Reap receive training on child sexual exploitation and abuse in 2022. Photo: APLE Cambodia.

The report offered several recommendations, including improved regulation and  larger tax incentives, as well as greater funding from government and corporations.

“Funding is now smaller than ever, which makes it harder for us to accelerate our program,” said Khoem Vando, a program manager at APLE Cambodia, a local organization that works with survivors of sexual abuse and human trafficking. “We are happy if the government can help us financially. We largely depend on foreign funding and whatever we can find domestically.” 

Touch Channy, spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs, praised the work of nonprofits.

‘’Every partner has an essential role to play in sharing social-sector work, as the Ministry cannot do it alone,” he said. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, there are many tasks we need to do to help vulnerable people in society, and the contribution from those organizations are very important for us.”

The Ministry, however, had no plan to fund them.

“It is not our policy to support our partners financially,” he said. “It is also impossible to do so now.” 

Mar Sophal, a program manager at The NGO Forum, said government support was critical for improving the lives of the Kingdom’s most vulnerable, and it should do more to support social-service groups.

“SDOs play an essential role in assisting Cambodians in different fields, including education, health, law and human rights,” he said. “They work closely with people in the community. The government should provide more financial assistance to ensure their sustainable work.”